The best part about creating the documentary, Opening Our Eyes, was getting to be around some of the most amazing, inspirational people I’ve ever met in my life. So many things that these folks said during their interviews, still run through my mind on a daily basis.
One thing in particular was something that Maggie Doyne said when she was talking about what she built in Nepal “It’s not perfect. If I had waited for things to be perfect, none of this would have happened.”
I work and live with a perfectionist, my husband and my business partner. We are opposites in every way. I am one to take my “big idea” and jump right into it. I’m also one who wants to complete something and follow through right away, regardless if it’s “perfect” or not. For example: I could have/should have gotten this film professionally color graded before I sent it out to festivals and distributors. But, I didn’t have the funds to do that, so rather than let the film “get old” until I could get more funding (which may not have happened), I pushed it out to the universe, and good things have happened.
It’s good to be detail oriented and to strive for perfection, but not if you use it to give yourself reasons to stop yourself from moving forward. Many times, when I tell my husband my latest “big idea”, his first instincts are to tell me dozens of reasons I shouldn’t act on it until……………everything is perfect. His intentions are good – he wants to protect me from failure, but if I let it, his words might also end up protecting me from success.
We both recognize our differences now as our individual strengths and that when we listen, learn and balance those opinions and differences so that they can work together instead of opposed to each other, great things can happen. But that takes practice and also not having to be right all the time. There is no one “right” and that’s the beauty of collaboration and working in harmony.
“She’s from the mainland isn’t she?” the woman said as she got into my friend’s truck. I laughed and she said “I knew you weren’t from here when you said, “hi, I’m Gail and extended your hand” – “ we don’t do that here.” My good friend PF Bentley was driving me to the tiny island airport and he had stopped to pick up a couple of friends for a meeting they were going to attend after getting me on my way.
Last week, after getting an email from PF alerting me about incredible airfares to Hawaii ($425 roundtrip from Newark to Honolulu), I made an impulse decision, bought a ticket and here I was on the island of Molokai, heading home after 4 days on the island. Some might say, that’s an awful long way to go for such a short time and I suppose that may be true. However it was 4 days that gave me a well needed break, and more importantly a time to step back from the noise of my life and ask myself “have I gotten off purpose?”
The fact is I had gotten way off purpose over the last few months. I had begun doing things other people wanted me to do and in the process I forgot who I was. When that happens, everything seems to turn sour and in the process I seem to do more “pushing” my dreams out there, and getting nowhere. Instead I should do what it is I am meant to do, regardless if people accept it or understand it and then things will fall into place as they should.
Over a decade ago, PF had taught me how to tell a story and how to translate that to “film”. If it weren’t for PF, our film, Opening Our Eyes would not have been possible. Thirteen years ago, he stirred something inside of me and I went from a state of stale complacency to an awakened spirit. The spirit had always been inside of me, but I had begun not to listen to it.
It’s been a short but glorious 4 days. PF and his beautiful wife Amy soothed my soul with humor, color, art, wonderful food and love. Amy is one of the most creative people I have ever met and a true inspiration in many ways. She taught me the ukulele and we played and sang and laughed. PF taught me new technical skills – color grading and mixing sound, but he also showed me his island home and once again he awakened my spirit. Mahalo (thank you) Amy for bringing color to my life and thank you PF for once again getting my train back on track.
I think sometimes we kid ourselves when we don’t recognize that certain things we do or say are mild forms of discrimination. There’s the occasional “soccer mom” comment that’s not intended to marginalize women or the references about “those people”. Many times the worst offenders are the ones who aren’t even aware they do discriminate.
I’ve spent my life and career as a woman in a man’s business. I’ve heard all the remarks that I care to hear and the bias that comes with it. Things have certainly improved over the last 35 years but now I’m facing a different sort of discrimination and that is the prevalent disregard for someone who is “old”.
When people equate youth, (defined by age) as someone who has new or fresh ideas and old as someone who is set in their ways and stagnant, that is a form of discrimination. In America we have become obsessed with youth and looks to the point that we don’t value anyone over 40. We not only don’t think this generation of aging baby boomers is relevant or has value, but we seem to be angry that they should have a right to things like social security or pensions or even a job. We want them just to go away and become invisible. We are a culture that places importance on the “packaging and the fizz”.
The fact of the matter is that age really has nothing to do with wisdom at all. Just because you get older doesn’t mean you necessarily get wiser. And just because you’re younger doesn’t mean you’re someone with forward thinking ideas. I’ve met a lot of older people who aren’t wise at all and I’ve met people half my age that couldn’t come up with a fresh thought if their life depended on it.
Age isn’t a barometer for how you process ideas. Look at people like Clint Eastwood – he did his best and most creative work after he turned 65. (I’ll forgive him for the chair incident.) I’d like to think that one of the best things that came out of this project that I did with my daughter was that we both had a much better understanding of who were as people. I wasn’t just her “old” mom who didn’t know anything and she wasn’t just my “kid” who didn’t know anything.
So next time you find yourself equating age with how someone thinks – step back and recognize that subtle discrimination and ask yourself if you would like to be on the receiving end of that?
It’s not easy to hold onto your ideals, let alone your dreams as you get older. I suppose I should consider myself lucky in that regard, that I have managed to stay true to my ideals and I’m still foolish enough to believe in my dreams. I wish more people my age had. Maybe we’d have a better world.
Dreaming is usually left up to the young, who can’t even imagine that their dreams wouldn’t come true. Somehow when you get older, you give up on some of your dreams. It seems like in our culture, we buy into the notion that with the responsibilities that come with age, there is no room for our dreams. I must tell you though, that I’ve always felt that if I couldn’t hold on to my own dreams – how could I ever teach my daughter how important that is, for a life well lived.
When my daughter Erin and I set out around the world together two years ago, it was to film the stories of people who were doing extraordinary things. These were all ordinary individuals who believed in the impossible. The film was inspired by Erin’s high school friend, Maggie Doyne, who opted not to head straight off to college after graduation. Maggie traveled and wound up in Nepal helping children, orphaned by ten years of civil war. Seven years later, Maggie lives with her 40 children, in a home she built in Nepal, has built a primary school and is now raising money to build a high school.
Maggie is 25 years old with wisdom beyond her years and a youthful spirit to believe that anything is possible. She reminds me of myself when I was her age, although I pale in comparison to what she has done at such a young age. I too traveled when I was just starting out in life. I left college after two years and circled the globe to satisfy my curiosity. When I returned, I went back to school to study photography, graduated and set out to make my living at commercial photography. My heart was in photojournalism and documentary photography, but everybody told me that I couldn’t make a living doing that kind of work – and I believed them.
Early on, I was looking for assistant work in NYC and I went to see legendary NY photographer, Jay Maisel. I brought my perfectly executed commercial photography portfolio with me to get Jay’s advice. For some reason, I also brought some “snapshots” that I had taken on my trip around the world, before I had gone to photography school. Jay looked at my portfolio and tossed it back to me saying “this is crap”. After seeing the shock on my face, he said, “this isn’t what you want to do, is it?” I showed him my snapshots and he said, “this is what you want to do – why aren’t you doing it?” I proceeded to tell him all the reasons that people had told me, and I was telling myself, why I wasn’t following the path I was passionate about. He looked at me and he asked, “How old are you?” I replied 25. And he said, “You’re 25 and you’re already making compromises?”
There have been many days since then, when I have wanted to throw my hands up and give up on my ideals and dreams and then I remember that day with Maisel and I think about people like Maggie – and I manage to hold on.
Chris Guillebeau wrote in his blog today “When I became an optimist after years of seeing the glass half-full, it was largely a practical choice. I just realized I was tired (literally) of putting my energy toward negative thoughts. It was draining and decapacitating. I vowed to put my energy toward positive thoughts, and ignore anything else as much as possible.” I can’t wait to meet Chris next week at his World Domination Summit in Portland, OR. In fact I can’t wait to meet all the people who attend this conference and think the same way Chris does.
Chris went on to say “Embrace the WOW. When someone does something interesting, appreciate it for what it is. Stop judging or discounting their achievements.” That sentence really resonated with me because there are days when I feel that no matter how much I have accomplished in my career and in my life, there are people who try to marginalize my achievements.
When I start to feel frustrated by people like that, I remind myself of what Ronni Kahn of Oz Harvest told me on a July day in Sydney, Australia “Don’t do something for the recognition – do it for the sake of doing.” Ronni was one of the many inspirational people my daughter Erin and I interviewed, on our trip around the world in the summer of 2010, during the making of our documentary, Opening Our Eyes.
I think back on all the travel logistics I needed to coordinate – our itinerary would have made one of the best travel agents panic – let alone figuring out how to do it using airline miles and hotel rewards. I also needed to think about the gear we would need to shoot both stills and video, that would fit into 2 backpacks. And I needed to make sure we had the necessary visas and vaccinations.
When we got back, I had over 5000 images and 150 hours of film to edit. Within two very long, bleak winter months in early 2011, I managed to lay down an initial rough cut of 3 hours of interviews. While I was doing the rough edit, I was also running a crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter to get funds to pay for a professional editor. I knew that would ultimately make all the difference in the world as far as how the film was cut – and it did.
It will be a year, next month since we screened our first “sneak preview” at the State Theatre in Traverse City, MI. Since that time, we’ve been honored at film festivals receiving awards for Best Documentary, Best Humanitarian Documentary and Best Trailer. But that stuff is for the ego and while it was sweet to receive those awards, the biggest reward for me, was the “journey” itself. I don’t mean just the trip itself, but all that I learned along the way. That’s the part that’s hard to explain, especially to the people who seem to “judge and discount” the achievements of others.
Like Chris Guillebeau, I made a decision some years ago to put my energy toward positive thoughts, and ignore everything else as much as possible. I need to remind myself of that every day and walk away from the things and the people who don’t bring value to my life. Life’s too short for that. When I keep that in mind, I stay on purpose and that’s when the good stuff happens.
“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.” - John Ruskin
It’s been a long time coming, but we’ve finally launched the redesign of the Opening Our Eyes website – or at least phase one. There will be a phase two which will make the site more interactive – but that will be down the road.
Here are a few cool changes that our fabulous designers have made:
• Total redesign from the “home” page and throughout.
• A list of upcoming screening and speaking dates.
• More photos everywhere, including on our “subjects” page
• Podcasts and behind the scenes videos uploaded
• A “store” with links to our book and ePubs
• A sign up button for news and updates
Of course the site will still contain our ongoing blog as well as the trailer for the film.
Please check out these new areas of our website and let us know what you like – or what you would like to see in the future.
In the meantime, we’ll keep you posted on any future film festivals that the film has been invited to.
Today is Mother’s Day and it’s my last weekend in China. I’ve been in China for the past three weeks, teaching Chinese journalists how to think and shoot in motion. It’s been a tough time and these past three weeks seem more like three years, instead of 3 weeks. I’m missing my home, my husband, my daughter and my personal freedom. Today, I took a well-needed day for myself – to reflect and re-energize for my final week here.
Yesterday, there was a knock on my hotel room door. I opened it to a wet (it was raining), but smiling woman, holding a big bouquet of flowers. Tom and Erin (my husband and daughter) found a way to get flowers delivered to me, clear across the world. Those flowers will give me strength to get through each day this last week here in China – even as they begin to wilt. Like a faded photo of loved ones, carried in my wallet, they will remind me of my support system in my life – my family.
My mom is no longer alive, but her spirit is always with me, especially during the hardest of times. I wish I had told her when she was still alive, how much she buoyed my spirits and gave me strength on my lowest days – I wish I had told her more often how much I loved her. She knew that, even when we disagreed – we connected in unspoken ways.
My daughter, Erin lives in Chicago now, ironically the city I was born in. I had planned to take a trip out to Chicago to see her and her apartment that she moved into almost a year ago. But that trip was canceled, along with my appearance at a screening of Opening Our Eyes at Northwestern, Erin’s alma mater, due to this trip to China.
I knew that this teaching job in China was going to be difficult, I just didn’t realize how difficult it would be. To be honest, I needed the money, making a film has not only been a huge time suck, but one on my finances as well. I didn’t set out to get rich off this movie – anyone can tell you that you are a fool to think you can make money by making a documentary. I set out to make this film because I felt there were some things missing in my own life, but I also felt that “we” (human beings), especially the collective “we” in America, had gotten off course in the last 20-30 years. We had become a “what’s in it for me society” and at the same time become unhealthy and unhappy. Our “successes” and “things” weren’t making us happy. We had become frustrated and yet didn’t even know why – ask any “occupiers”.
In the process of making this film, I not only found my purpose in my life, but also formed an incredible bond with my daughter on our journey and made me grateful for all the things I have in my life that I had taken for granted. Essentially, making this movie saved my life. At the same time, I feel that I have alienated and annoyed friends by talking about it too much and promoting the festivals and awards too much. I sense that I have oversaturated the market and yet I feel the need to stay the course of our ultimate goal of this film and that is to make a difference with this film by motivating and inspiring others as to what they can do to create a shift in our society to become less selfish and self-absorbed. It’s ironic that in doing so, I’ve lost friends because I’ve become too self-absorbed in the process. A filmmaker I met recently told me “you never finish a film – but there comes a time when you are ready to let go”. I’m slowly getting to the point that I can let go – and give up this fight.
Perhaps it took coming to China for me to get to this point. I thought I would have the support of my team while I was here, but in fact for the most part, I felt I was on my one. I will admit that I’m not the easiest person to be with. I have a strong personality and generally say what’s on my mind. On the other hand, I have an extreme sense of loyalty and my true friends know that while I may say things to their face that may be jarring at times, I’ll never do things behind their backs that can undermine them. I never abandon my friends, even when they have hurt me. In fact I often will do things I don’t like because I will put myself second if it means not hurting someone else’s feelings. I have found that by living my life this way, I find out who my true friends are – I have been surprised many times by people who I thought were friends and I found out otherwise. Even at those times, I somehow find myself giving them the benefit of the doubt and believe that after time has passed and wounds have healed from disagreements, our friendships will mend.
There is a lyric, in fact the title of a song “love the one you’re with”. Last week, while struggling to get through the challenges here and missing my family, I got some well-needed support from my students. These nine young Chinese students not only formed a bond with each other to overcome their own challenges of learning video but they became my family. I commented that Sunday was Mother’s Day and that I was missing my family. On the last day, I walked into the classroom and saw that they had drawn a caricature of me on the whiteboard and underneath the drawing they had written “mama”. It took everything I had not to cry. Later when I handed them their certificates of achievement I gave each and every one of them a hug. We had formed our own family that week and we pulled each other through. The word “mom”, or “mother”, or “mama” took on a greater meaning and we all felt it.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the “moms” and our collective mom – “Mother Earth”.
I have had the privilege of representing Opening Our Eyes at two film festivals the past few weeks: the first at the Bare Bones International Film Festival in Muskogee, Oklahoma and the second at the Myrtle Beach International Film Festival in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. And boy, I do have to say that I love that southern charm. I’m not saying that Oklahoma and South Carolina are the same by any means. But at both places, I was surrounded by a sense of small-town pride, extreme friendliness and a big ‘old dose of southern hospitality.
This especially came in handy when I was in Muskogee, as I was completely by myself. The festival had arranged for volunteers to pick filmmakers up at the airport in Tulsa, which is a good hour drive from Muskogee. I arrived late Friday night in the wake of some torrential thunderstorms and severe tornado warnings. But my volunteer, Lara, still showed up on time, with a smile, gave me a big hug and even brought me a little goody bag to welcome me to Oklahoma. Lara ended up driving me into town from my hotel the next morning, too where I was lucky to witness the Azalea Parade, and later, the annual chili and BBQ cook-off. If that wasn’t a good introduction to Oklahoma, I don’t know what was.
After eating several helpings of chili and baked beans (and getting some on my dress, of course), I went to the Roxy Theater and met the directors of the festival, Oscar and Shironbutterfly Ray, as well as some of the other filmmakers. Everyone was very friendly and excited that I had come, and I found myself starting to understand why Bare Bones is known as the “Friendliest Film Festival” by many filmmakers.
After the screening of the film, Lara continued to show her hospitality by taking me to see the blooming azaleas that Muskogee is known for, then out for a dinner of BBQ ribs, and finally a traditional Native American powwow. By the end of my stay, it didn’t matter that I didn’t get any cell phone service in Muskogee – I had been charmed by the “Okies from Muskogee,” and I certainly didn’t feel alone anymore.
Myrtle Beach was a slightly different story. I was not alone (I had Executive Producer Angel Burns at my side) and I had the chance to meet more of the other filmmakers who were attending the festival. In fact, one of the filmmakers who I had briefly met in Oklahoma was in Myrtle Beach as well! – a classic “small-world” moment. But the festival directors and the local people I met were just as friendly and welcoming. Several locals told me that they’ve been coming to the festival for years and are always so excited when the filmmakers come from around the country. We went to a few local establishments for gatherings after the screenings where the owners were more than generous with their food. And everyone called me ma’am! Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the small-town atmosphere, friendly festival-goers and southern charm of both film festivals.
I am proud to announce the awards that Opening Our Eyes has won at both these festivals. At Bare Bones International Film Festival: Best Movie Trailer and Best Humanitarian Documentary. At Myrtle Beach International Film Festival: 2ndrunner up for Best Documentary.
And I am looking forward to our next festival this weekend: the Awareness Festival in LA!
This morning is one of those mornings that I can’t seem to get focused. My mind is spinning in a hundred different directions. There have been too many times in my life when I’ve woken early, not able to sleep because my mind is too active. I’ve learned to “manage” my active mind with meditation, so that I can “turn off”, but I haven’t quite mastered managing my dreams and last night they were vivid, making my mind a virtual circus this morning.
I’m headed to the West Coast this week to attend another festival that our film has been selected by, The Los Angeles Women’s International Film Festival. I’m looking forward to this festival for a couple of reasons. For starters, Opening Our Eyes will be one of the “featured” films, but perhaps more importantly, it will be a unique experience for me to be part of a festival that is dedicated to women filmmakers. I’ve spent the better part of my professional life in a man’s world. Still do to some extent, so it will be a treat to speak with other women who are doing similar things that I am.
When I was at the SLO Film Festival last week, I had the opportunity to see an absolutely wonderful documentary called “Who Does She Think She Is?” The film follows a number of contemporary females artists who were working in film, visual arts, and music.
These were women of different ages, races, geographic locations who were all working in the “arts” and struggling to “get noticed” in the “top” echelons of their prospective fields, which were predominantly male.
They were also struggling to find a balance between their passions (their art) – and their families and personal life. I think most women, regardless if they are working in the arts, can relate to the constant struggle of balancing what they give of themselves to their family – and to what is calling out to them, inside.
The film brought out something very interesting – in ancient times the arts were predominantly female – the goddesses at work. Somewhere along the timeline of the ages – women dropped out of sight in terms of being high profile in the arts world. What top artists’ names instantly pop into your head? Picasso, Renoir, Monet, Michelangelo, DaVinci? All male. Nowadays, even though statistically there are more women working in the arts than men, there are few female artists at “the top.”
I sometimes wonder, why the tables are tilted gender wise, in regards to “worth”. Is it because women, especially women my age, still somehow feel, that when they pursue their dreams so intensely, they often run the risk of compromising their personal life and relationships? I know I have felt the “norms of society” passing judgment on me at times.
I’m not sure if I will ever be “the norm”, nor do I think I will ever want to be. Half the time I don’t even take notice of things like that because I’m so caught up in pursuing what it is I feel I just have to do. It was very clear when I was at the SLO Film Festival last week that I was certainly not “the norm” as far as “indie filmmakers” are concerned – a group that is mostly “30 something” males. No doubt, I will be more of “the norm” at the LA Women’s FF this week, but then again I probably won’t even think about it. I’m just doing what it is I’m supposed to be doing at this point in my life. Or at least that’s what my inner voice keeps telling me.
Everyone asks, “What’s next?” I do have a “what’s next” project in my mind. But I’m not quite ready to abandon this one yet. One young filmmaker told me last week “You never really finish a film – but you do get to a point when you can let go of it and move on to something else”. That time is coming – I’m feeling it. But right now, I’m not ready to let go of this one – the circle is not yet complete.
Did the title get your attention? I’m not surprised. Aren’t a lot of Americans interested in knowing where the happiest place in America is? But what about the people who live in the happiest place in America and aren’t happy? Wow – it must be awful to know that even though you live in what is deemed the “happiest place in America” – you still aren’t happy. Happiness isn’t about the “where” as much as it is about the “is”. What “is” right for one – “isn’t” right for someone else.
Regardless, tomorrow I’m boarding a flight to a place that has been called the “happiest place on Earth”, San Luis Obispo, CA. San Luis Obispo has already made me happy. Our film has been selected for the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival. I’m quite psyched about the whole thing. I admit it. It will be a first for me – having a film in a film festival. What an honor it is to bestow on a project that I have put my heart and soul into for more than two years.
It will be fun, with all sorts of festivities planned. One particular event that I am really looking forward to is the screening of Citizen Kane at the Hearst Castle! It’s the first time this film will be screened at the castle and one of William Randolph Hearst’s grandsons will host the evening. I am a huge “old movie” fan – always have been even as a little kid, so this is right up my alley. There will be lots of celebrities there but I will be more enamored with the historic attributes of the night – than the glam.
Festivals are definitely an ego thing. But they also bring awareness to films, which is the whole reason filmmakers make them, especially documentaries. Why make films if no one sees them? It’s a great opportunity to get audience feedback too. One of our subjects, Gina Low will be there too, which is wonderful. She’ll be in attendance for another festival that we have been invited to later in the month, The Los Angeles International Women’s Film Festival. It’s a competitive business, getting into festivals, so I will cherish every minute of both experiences.
This is the fun part of the process of making a film, seeing it screened in a theatrical setting and dialoging with the audience. The payback, after so much hard work. I am “happily” heading out the “happiest place on Earth” and get to share the experience with my wonderful team – my daughter, my husband and my special friend Angel.
I’m already happy and I haven’t even gotten there yet.